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Non Fiction

The leading early geologist in Australia was Reverend William Branwhite Clarke (1798–1878). His father was a blind schoolmaster in a Suffolk village, and the family was not well off. Still, they managed to send William to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied to enter the church. During his time as a student, he came under the influence of the redoubtable professor of geology Adam Sedgwick and took up geology seriously. Nevertheless, he became a clergyman and held a series of minor ecclesiastical positions, besides teaching at his father’s old school for a period. He also undertook geological studies, was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society and published a number of (fairly minor) papers in Britain.

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Peter Timms is ‘dismayed’ by the state of contemporary art and by the hype that surrounds it and the reality of the experience. He has written a book mired in exasperation and frustration. It is not hard to share Timms’s sentiments. Visit any sizeable biennale-type exhibition and you are engulfed in flickering videos in shrouded rooms, installations of more or less hermetic appeal, large-scale photographs – these often prove to be the most interesting – scratchy ‘anti-drawings’ and a handful of desultory paintings. Noise is ‘in’, too. ‘Biennale art’ is the term frequently used to describe the phenomenon.

Quite who is to blame for this occupies much of the first half of Timms’s book. Artists hell-bent on having careers rather than seeking vocations are part of the problem, and so are curators of contemporary art who nourish the artist’s every need. Art schools are next, where cultural theory has replaced the teaching of art history. The superficialities and the susceptibility to trendiness in the Australia Council are further contributors.

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Radical Brisbane edited by Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier & Radical Melbourne 2 by Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow

by
August 2004, no. 263

Brisbane’s unruly rioters and Melbourne’s enemies within continue the Vulgar Press’s excellent series of city guides. By interpreting familiar places in Melbourne and Brisbane from within a tradition of left-wing activism, the guides emphasise a different environmental heritage. Where city planning seems bent on transforming daily life into those sanitised displays that can garner tourist dollars, these collections speak to far more challenging and imaginative traditions. Sadly, and this seems especially the case in Brisbane, the buildings around which radicals fought and dreamed have, for the most part, disappeared. Photographs in Radical Brisbane present the reader with bland offices, mundane glass and concrete façades and the occasional freeway flyover. Modern city planning has efficiently purged the landscape of any radical intrusion.

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The Age of Sail might be presumed to cover several centuries, beginning, say, as far back as the great age of European exploration in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and continuing until wind-powered sea travel was gradually replaced, in the late nineteenth century, by steamships.

The euphonious title of Robin Haines’s book is therefore a little misleading. She deals only with British assisted emigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century, putting their personal accounts into historical and statistical context, or rather, fleshing out the statistics with the human stories from which they are extrapolated. These emigrants are working-class people for the most part, ambitious and, of course, self-selected by their literacy, with social networks strong enough to encourage them to write their shipboard letters or diaries to keep in touch with those they had left behind in Britain. They are also, as Haines points out, self-selected for success in the new colonies, since the successful were the most likely to have descendants who would preserve the diaries and letters of their fortunate ancestors.

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The Cambridge Guide to English Usage is written by the Australian academic Pam Peters, and is an interesting extension of the work she published in The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide (1995). This time Peters examines more than 4000 issues of word meaning, spelling, grammar, punctuation and style as exemplified in the Englishes of the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The book will appeal to both a specialist and a general readership.

The major players here are the UK and the US, and the evidence of usage for these domains is drawn largely from corpora (or should it be corpuses?), especially the 100 million-word British National Corpus (BNC) and a subset of 140 million words of American English from the Cambridge International Corpus (CCAE). The evidence for usage in the other Englishes is not corpus-based, and relies largely on dictionaries, style guides and questionnaires.

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Mention Colin Thiele’s name, and at least one listener will sigh and say The Sun on the Stubble in a wistful or regretful voice, depending on their schooldays memories. This biography takes us on ngrugie ngoppun: a ‘good walk’ with its subject. Largely chronological, it begins with a glimpse of the writer poised to tell his enduring story of the Coorong, Storm Boy (1963), and then retraces his long life and career (Thiele was born in 1920). His idyllic boyhood in the bosom of a loving farm community, his academic studies as a young adult, his RAAF service and his long distinguished teaching career are all laid out, leading to his subsequent fame as a part-time writer.

Thiele has been a prolific and versatile writer for over sixty years. He has written poetry, short stories, plays, biography, textbooks and novels, while working full-time as a teacher and then principal of Wattle Park Teachers’ College. He is best known for his novels about his beloved South Australia, in particular those set in fictitious settlements in the Barossa Valley: The Sun on the Stubble (1961), Uncle Gustav’s Ghosts  (1974) and Labourers in the Vineyard (1970), among others. Storm Boy is widely acknowledged to be his best-loved story for children. Some of his short stories for young readers are small gems: Danny’s Egg (1989) could easily fit into the ‘Aussie Nibbles’ series. He has published a biography of Hans Heysen (Heysen of Hahndorf, 1968), and his own memoir of childhood, With Dew on My Boots (1997). He published poetry in the notorious Ern Malley issue of Angry Penguins, and had radio plays broadcast while still a young teacher. His work has been adapted for cinema and television. Considering his long life, too few photographs are included, but a note directs the reader to a website for more. There are more than thirty pages of notes and bibliography, and an extensive index.

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The publication of Miles Franklin’s diaries, written during her years in Australia from 1932 until her death in 1954, must be one of the year’s major literary events. events. Franklin, who frequently lamented her relative neglect in the contemporary literary culture of the 1930s and 1940s, has become steadily more and more visible since the 1970s, when international feminism discovered My Brilliant Career (1901). Meanwhile, much of her continuing significance is due secondarily to the extensive biographical research by Jill Roe and others.

Primarily, Paul Brunton’s source is the enormous archive of letters, manuscripts, reviews, notebooks, and diaries that Franklin left to the Mitchell Library. Brunton has mined this archive with great sensitivity and fine scholarship. This volume has a balanced introduction placing the entries in the context of Franklin’s life, explanatory footnotes through the text, a glossary of names, a bibliography of Franklin’s published works, a list of manuscript sources, an index and photographs. An occasional editorial note is inserted tactfully as a biographical signpost.

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When is a suburb not a suburb? When it is an inner-urban locale with a distinctive café culture, its own postcode and football team, but no town all. And here’s another: how did an Old English word meaning ‘churl’s farm’ come to be assigned to a swanky inner suburb of a major city in the southern hemisphere? These and numerous other questions are answered in Carlton: A History. This encyclopedic book tells a fascinating story that resonates way beyond its notional suburban boundaries.

As Melbourne grew, its suburbs became too vast for one local government body to administer, and areas were carved off to form separate municipalities: Richmond, Collingwood, Fitzroy, South Melbourne, North Melbourne. Carlton, however, despite periodic agitation from its residents, has remained within the boundaries of the Melbourne City Council.

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Writing of cinematographer Damien Parer’s untimely death in 1944, war correspondent Chester Wilmot paid tribute to him as ‘a fine man as well as a brilliant photographer. He made the camera speak as no other man I’ve ever known.’ Neil McDonald’s book, Damien Parer’s War, does eloquent justice to this legendary figure in Australian history and Australian film. Many may know that Parer was the first Australian to win an Oscar, but, unless they have read the 1994 edition of this admirable book, they may not know much else.

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Chalmers Johnson, who began his career in the US Navy and became a consultant to the CIA, is one of the most respected American experts on East Asia and international affairs. Over the past few years, he has emerged as a significant academic critic of the Bush administration, and what he sees as a dangerously reckless escalation of US imperialism and militarism.

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